The French mariner Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) was the first European to navigate the St Lawrence River, and his explorations and discoveries in northeast Canada during the course of the three expeditions he made there from 1534–42 were the basis for French claims in North America. He was despatched to North America by King Francis II of France in 1534. In the course of this first voyage he sailed the west coast of Newfoundland and explored the Gulf of St Lawrence. In the following year the king sent him on a second, more substantial voyage, with three ships and over 100 men. He sailed up the St Lawrence as far as present-day Quebec, and established a base near an Iroquois village. Venturing as far as the island of Montreal, he was blocked by the Lachine rapids (named after China, as he was convinced that the river was the Northwest Passage to Asia), and was forced to return to his base and over-winter there. He returned to France, with tales of the great wealth that lay in the Canadian interior. In 1541 Cartier sailed to Canada again, supposedly as an advance party for a group of French colonists, but after another brutal winter, which he spent in Quebec, he failed to penetrate any further into the interior, made enemies of the local Iroquois, and abandoned his fellow colonists to return to France. They fared little better, and returned to France just a year later.
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